I was inclined to like “Mr. Deadly Goes To Town” even before an overly polite, sentient bomb voiced by Matt Berry came scrolling onto the set—this being the second Archer: 1999 episode scripted by Mark Ganek, who also penned “The Leftovers,” my favorite installment of the season to date. Adding Berry (and Thomas Lennon, whose sudden appearance as half of the the space-based versions of assassin duo Charles and Rudy was another happy and unexpected shock) just elevated my expectations even higher—expectations that “Mr. Deadly” thoroughly lived up to, I’m happy to report.
Berry—presumably on loan from his wonderfully hammy vampire gig on Archer’s sister network, FX—is a natural fit for voice acting, capable of drenching pretty much any character in rich, warm waves of smarm. (Born 20 years earlier, he could have gone toe-to-toe with Tim Curry and Tony Jay for the “deep-loud-fun-British school of kids’ cartoon villain voice acting.) He actually dials it back a bit as ever-hopeful walking apocalypse Mr. Deadly, never going full “You shut the fuck up, Clem Fandango” with his performance, and instead keeping the character detached—fitting for someone whose only goal in “life” is to kill himself in as big an explosion as possible.
“Talking bomb who wants to explode” is one of those extremely niche-but-still-classic sci-fi tropes, popping up most famously in John Carpenter’s first feature, the space-slacker comedy Dark Star. (A.k.a. that other other Dan O’Bannon script about hapless astronauts trapped on a run-down spaceship in close proximity to a hostile alien.) It creates a fun “villain” dynamic for tonight’s outing, in so far as the focus isn’t on stopping or impairing Mr. Deadly—who can’t initiate his own detonation phrase anyway—but in keeping him away from anybody who would. (Cue the best plot beat of the episode, when the crew of the Seamus immediately reacts to this revelation by dog-piling Carol/Cheryl to stop her from giving the fatal order.)
That puts most of the burden for doing the “right thing” (or whatever) on Lana, of course, who spends most of the episode trying to teach Mr. Deadly the value of life outside of solar system-destroying self-immolation. Meanwhile, Malory is just trying to offload the problem for as much cash as possible, which is how perennial backstabbers Charles and Rudy—now rendered as a space orc and a Thundercat, apparently—enter the mix, attempting to make off with the doomsday device for themselves. In the end, it’s Lana’s willingness to sacrifice herself (rather than ice cream, butterfly profanity, or fucking) that convinces the bomb that life is worth living—a schmaltzy conclusion that’s lightened considerably both by the fact that getting shot on his behalf sends his benefactor into a chemically-induced kill frenzy, and his forced detonation just a minute or so afterward.
Shaggy dog stories are de rigueur for Archer at this point, so it’s really just a question of how much fun we’ll have before the poor space-pooch (aw, Laika) inevitably gets shot. In the case of “Mr. Deadly Goes To Town,” that answer is “Quite a lot”; between Pam’s love of pasta-based resort vacations, Archer’s fear of black holes, and Berry’s politely insistent requests to explode, this episode has a lot of moving parts, and almost all of them work. Even the Malory-Krieger arms dealer plot (which would normally run smack into my distaste for Krieger-sells-out-the-crew sorts of stories) is fun as hell, from Krieger’s love of highly impractical weaponry, to the epic saga of his and Pam’s promotional mixtape. (“Sometimes you want to have fun! Sometimes you just need a gun! Ka-kow!”)
With two episodes under his belt, Ganek has made it clear that he understands what makes these characters, and this world, both functional and funny, enough that I’m honestly disappointed he only wrote two episodes out of this season’s complement of eight. (Case in point: The way each character gets an uncrowded little arc, from Archer’s fear of black holes, to Ray and Cyril’s aspirations to competence, to Pam’s efforts to ingratiate herself to the baddies as a sort of assassination intern.) Archer’s later seasons have opened the show up to occasional accusations of coasting; “Mr. Deadly Goes To Town” might go downhill with a quickness once the shooting and the exploding starts, but it never lets you forget that the chaos is firmly under control.
- Pam making dead-guy-ash angels is a GIF waiting to happen. “Bring me the biggest goose in all of London!”
- Archer, as Cyril chokes on dude-dust: “Now I kind of wish we’d worn helmets.”
- Mr. Deadly is a very fun visual design, and the running jokes about his struggles with body language never failed to get a laugh out of me.
- Berry practically purrs on “fiery apotheosis.”
- “Don’t just stand there gawping like stunned space elk!”
- “Let’s go get this bomb drunk.”
- Malory and Lana discuss the ethics of intergalactic gun-running: “We can’t be held responsible for the actions of the people we sell weapons to!” “Why not?” “Because we’d have to stop doing it!”
- Androids can’t dream of electric sheep, but they sure do think about them a lot, Dick.
- Archer’s not sure whether the billions who would die at Mr. Deadly’s hands count as “sunk cost” or “arbitrage.”
- “Thanks, Lana! It’s been a…delay?”
- Mr. Deadly and Cheryl, post-death-fetish-assisted-sex: “I’m sorry, what was your name again?” “Ugh, there’s some debate on that.”
- I’ll go to bat for any episode that traps Pam, Archer, and Lana in close quarters. The extended “Spaghetti Vacation” riff was a delight.
- Charles and Rudy (or Tav and space cat, or whatever) don’t get a ton of shading, but Lennon’s reading on “Is that a kimono?” was very funny.
- Obscure reference alert: Look, if the show is just going to spell out the whole Tycho Brahe-metal-nose thing in the text, I don’t even know what I’m doing down here. And if that mixtape cover was a deliberate reference, I’m not cool enough to catch it.
- Ray: “Give me a minute! I think i was just dead a little!”
- Lana’s rage-hyped read on “DON’T CALL ME LAAAAAADY” is some amazing Aisha Tyler work.
- Line of the episode: Carol/Cheryl, after Mr. Deadly starts talking about his feelings. “Ugggggh, it’s going to be one of those.” (Although Archer’s “Why not just give us an ancient horn that summons Cthulhu’s older, shittier stepbrother” is also a strong contender.)
- Between the return of Brett earlier this season, and Charles, Rudy, and Stirfriday tonight, I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed for Space-Conway-Stern and Space-Uta and Mannfred to show up before the season’s out.
- Sorry this Stray Observations was so long. What can I say, it was a funny damn episode of TV.